EAI Toasters?

Itís funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself in the IT industry, and you really need to have a long memory in order to make sense of things as they change. Such is the case with the new offering of ďintegration appliances,Ē an EAI technology in a new wrapper. However, whether this technology is right for you really depends on what type of problem youíre looking to solve. You have to consider the value of any type of technology as well as its proper application; that is not different.

You may remember, shortly after the impact of the Internet hit back in the mid-í90s came about the notion of ďInternet appliances,Ē or browsers in a box. The idea was to provide just the basic Web browser functionality with a specialized single-purpose device and thus simplify the Internet experiences and enable people who could not otherwise afford it to use the Internet. Good idea? Perhaps. Did it work? Not really. Indeed, a follow-on notion, network computing, was also supposed to change the way we viewed application development; it too did not make it to the mainstream.

So, we are again looking at another appliance. There are several companies that are offering basic application integration functionality including transformation, orchestration, routing, flow control, connectors, etc., all inside an appliance-type offering. So, whatís the difference between this approach and more traditional technology? Itís really a matter of how you leverage it, and in what type of problem domain. However, the first thing on the list is to understand the notion, the application, and the value.

The Notion

Most of the integration appliance guys seem to think of their offering as an ďapplication routerĒ of sorts, with similar design patterns to those found in a network router. Indeed, they are looking to offer integration thatís much closer to the network than traditional integration servers.

Iím not sure any of these integration appliances are attempting to replace existing mainstream integration servers; they are instead looking to work with them, providing a point of service and information aggregation of sorts between a few source and target applications and an integration server. Iím sure this also means that integration appliances are designed for more simplistic integration problems, perhaps with fewer than a dozen source or target systems.

The real selling point of integration appliances is their simplicity. Since the boxes come pre-configured and optimized, that saves you from figuring that out yourself, or perhaps spending a bunch on consultants to do it for you. Moreover, they are not going to charge you as much for this technology as traditional integration servers, and since all of the platforms are standardized, maintenance becomes less of an issue. The idea is to configure this thing, place it on a rack and forget about it.

The Application

So, what do you do with them? In looking at the patterns of use, I think most end-users will employ this type of technology for both service and information visibility operations, or enabling these appliances to manage and aggregate information and services out of applications, exposing information and services to other types of technology, which may include: BAM tools, data mining tools, other integration servers (such as TIBCO or webMethods), specialized B2B infrastructures such as VANs, or more modern Web services networks for B2B that may leverage services as well as data (such as Grand Central).

Indeed, this type of device could create the bridge between older applications that donít know how to speak in more modern Internet protocols (HTTP, SOAP, etc.), and newer integration services, including Web service-based integration technology, that only speak modern Internet protocols. In other words, an adapter to many systems instead of one.

Of course, you have to understand that traditional integration server technology would perhaps have this capability as well, but in many instances the simplistic use of higher-end integration technology would not make sense when you consider cost and maintenance.Your mileage may vary; you need to consider your own requirements.

So, based on what we know, we can assert that most of these appliances will find themselves in two types of situations:

  • First, when there is a need to expose both information and services contained within a few systems to other entities that need to leverage both. Portals, data mining tools, process integration, are the things that come to mind.
  • Second, when you only need to link a few applications together, I would say fewer than six, and you donít plan on expanding that integration domain quickly. This also saves you money, not having to purchase more traditional EAI products.

The Future

It will be interesting to see where this technology goes in the near future; itís really just another way to package integration technology. Its acceptance in an already crowded market could prove difficult, just as the Internet appliances of years past had to deal with a market that had yet to define itself.

You have to consider alternatives as well, such as EII tools that federate database access in much the same way integration appliances do. You should also consider more traditional application integration technology that may be a better value when you consider that you could be making your solution more complex by leveraging more than one type of integration technology. Whatís more, as the number of applications inside an organization that require integration increases rapidly, higher-end technology may be a better fit, since itís a big problem to begin with.

The danger here is to consider this type of technology strategic to larger organizations, indeed you must first define your issues holistically, establishing all of your requirements before selecting this type of integration technology, or any integration technology for that matter. Youíll find that many types of technologies will make up your solution, this might just be one.

About the Author

David S. Linthicum (Dave) knows cloud computing and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). He is an internationally recognized industry expert and thought leader, and the author and coauthor of 13 books on computing, including the best selling Enterprise Application Integration (Addison Wesley). Dave keynotes at many leading technology conferences on cloud computing, SOA, Web 2.0, and enterprise architecture, and has appeared on a number of TV and radio shows as a computing expert. He is a blogger for InfoWorld, Intelligent Enterprise, and eBizq.net, covering SOA and enterprise computing topics. Dave also has columns in Government Computer News, Cloud Computing Journal, SOA Journal, Align Journal, and is the editor of Virtualization Journal.

In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including Enterprise Application Integration, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. For the last 10 years, Dave has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, and how to make cloud computing work for the modern enterprise. This includes work with several cloud computing startups.

Daveís industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities including the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, and the University of Wisconsin.

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